Liefert is a fifth-year M.Div. student.
I have been compellingly drawn to ministry since I was a child. My view of the world and what I have always considered to be the meaning of my life is deeply rooted in religious concerns. However, until I found Unitarian Universalism, I never felt at home with any organized religion. As a child, I attended Methodist and Presbyterian Sunday school, memorizing Bible verses, helping out with the younger children, often attending Bible summer camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I mostly remember feeling moved by the hymn, "How Great Thou Art," feeling loved by Jesus, and coming alive each summer in the mountains. My mother, who had been raised Lutheran by her Norwegian parents, embodies a stoic pragmatic Protestant work ethic. My father, who had been raised Christian Scientist by a mother who was passionately devoted to her faith, embodies a more mystical spiritual orientation, seeing the holy in the world of nature.
In high school, I became more serious about Christianity, exploring what it meant to live out Christian values. I enjoyed singing and touring with a citywide choir associated with Youth For Christ. But I was disturbed and eventually alienated by the intolerance and narrow conservative views of my peers and the leaders in that version of Christianity during the mid-1960s in Fresno, California. My liberal political views and my blossoming, confusing sexuality placed me outside the only religion that I had ever known. As I grew older, I became more and more aware of some luminous connection between us all, but I continued to feel wary of formal religion and did not attend church for over 20 years. My sense of reverence and awe led me to live in Yosemite for many years, where I worshipped in solitude in forests and meadows. I also experienced the sacred in my relationships with my friends and lovers and family.
In 1991, I found Unitarian Universalism and the Oakland church. Sunday worship in the pews and singing hymns first opened me to my wounds and longing. After several years, I was drawn deeply into community. You could call me a panentheist humanist pagan mystic, exploring process theology, who experiences God within, among and beyond us.
It was in 1998, the first time I preached during a summer service, that I felt a kind of clarion call to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. It took me another four years of discernment to test the authenticity of that call and to figure out the practical aspects of how to pursue the path of ministry.
I am now in transition from a 25-year career in law to Unitarian Universalist ministry. While it has been challenging to juggle my pre-existing commitments to family and job, Starr King's educational philosophy and flexibility has made it feasible for me to follow what feels like the dream of a lifetime to pursue professional ministry. I have faith that the specifics of my call will be revealed over time, and feel certain about choosing to follow this calling, even though it is often challenging. My dream of ministry is grounded in gratitude for the transformation I have experienced in the Oakland Unitarian Universalist congregation and a vision of this faith's potential to transform and heal others and the world.
I find the students, faculty, and staff at Starr King to be lively, articulate, challenging, nurturing, creative and complicated. I appreciate the opportunity to hone my skills as a religious leader in this educational setting, which I see as mirroring the larger threshold that Unitarian Universalism stands on - one of claiming our identity and power as a liberal religious institution, affirming the sacred in all and working to create just, sustainable, equitable communities.
I appreciate the opportunity I had to teach a class as a student teacher at Starr King. The focus of the class was shared ministry and relational power. One of the topics we explored was the potential power of music, and I was thrilled to be able to invite a group of lay musicians from the Oakland church to share music at our class-led chapel service called "The Bejeweled Net." This image comes from a paper Rebecca Parker wrote about process theology, developed during the 20th century by Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead characterized god as "the poet of the world," who co-creates the world with all of us. I fell in love with this vision of reality, sensing the exhilarating beauty and power in a world of continuous revelation - one that is expansive, complex, and radically interrelated. Just as I am drawn to systems theory, that sees each part as containing the whole, with each interaction creating larger wholes and patterns and diversity, I am drawn to this image of the bejeweled net as a way of seeing and being in the world. It is as close as I can come to describing what is calling me to follow this path of Unitarian Universalist ministry at this challenging time, in this blessed place.
I have a strong commitment to the transformative power and synergy of shared ministry. The year before I came to Starr King as a full-time student, I served on the Ministerial Search Committee for the Oakland Unitarian Universalist church. We were inspired by our congregation's bold charge to search for a team ministry, where a religious education minister and a congregational minister would be called at the same time, equal in stature, power and compensation. I think it is important to continue to recognize and respect the fundamentally significant role of religious education in our congregations and the vital role that community ministry can play. I intend to continue to promote the vision of expanding our understanding of ministry beyond professional parish ministry to encompass and nurture strong lay ministry, dynamic religious education and creative community ministry, such as the Faithful Fools Street Ministry in San Francisco.
Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward